China exonerates coronavirus whistleblower doctor who died

In rare move, Communist Party’s disciplinary body says Wuhan police wrong to punish Li Wenliang

Li Wenliang: reprimanded by police and made to sign a confession and agreement to not commit any more “illegal actions”. He later contracted the virus and died.

Li Wenliang: reprimanded by police and made to sign a confession and agreement to not commit any more “illegal actions”. He later contracted the virus and died.

 

China has exonerated a whistleblowing doctor who police reprimanded for warning about the early spread of the coronavirus in Wuhan and later died of the disease, in a rare admission of error by Chinese officials.

The Communist Party’s top disciplinary body said that Wuhan police had acted “inappropriately” by punishing the doctor, and they had issued “disciplinary punishments” to policemen and offered a “solemn apology” to Li Wenliang’s family.

Local officials “lost control” and showed “ignorance of their job duties”, the National Supervisory Commission said.

Dr Li (34), one of a group of doctors in Wuhan who shared posts on social media warning of a deadly Sars-like virus spreading in the city in December, was reprimanded by police and made to sign a confession and agreement to not commit any more “illegal actions”.

In his post to a group of friends that landed him in trouble with the police, Dr Li wrote that people in Wuhan were being infected with a novel coronavirus, so “Please alert your families to take precautions”.

He later contracted the virus himself while working in a Wuhan hospital and died on February 7th, sparking a mass outpouring of grief and outrage as he became the national face of anger against China’s censorship and information control.

Confronting unprecedented levels of anger across the country following his death, the party quickly announced it would launch an investigation into his case.

The commission’s report after a 42-day probe met with criticism online on Friday, with many comments saying the disciplinary actions did not go far enough.

“Is that it? Just some local police take the fall. Were they not following orders from a higher level?” one commenter wrote.

The party’s investigative team denounced the fact that Dr Li had been labelled a “hero” and “anti-establishment” at home and abroad.

“This is completely untrue,” the report said. “[Dr] Li was a Communist Party member, not a so-called ‘person who was against the system’.”

It accused those who called Dr Li a martyr of having “ulterior motives to fan flames, confuse and poison people’s minds” and said they were “doomed to fail”.

China has faced criticism for its early handling of the outbreak – which has now infected more than 238,000 people worldwide and killed 9,867 – particularly in recent days from the Trump administration. National security adviser Robert O’Brien said the “outbreak in Wuhan was covered up . . . and probably cost the world community two months to respond”.

A recent study by the University of Southampton using complex modelling found that if interventions in China had been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks earlier, cases could have been reduced by 66 per cent, 86 per cent and 95 per cent, respectively, “significantly limiting the geographical spread of the disease”.

However, the research also found that if interventions had been conducted one week, two weeks, or three weeks later than they were, “the number of cases may have shown a three-fold, seven-fold, or 18-fold increase, respectively”.